The importance of building a better foundation of strength for performance
Build a better foundation of strength for performance
Athletes and coaches have seen the benefits of resistance training on sports performance for decades and it is well reported that stronger athletes often out-perform weaker athletes. The science suggests that stronger athletes are faster, more powerful and more robust and can tolerate a higher level of training volume. However, this doesn’t mean that the world’s strongest powerlifters would become Olympic sprinters or basketball players in the NBA. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Athletes need to be strong but not just weight room strong. Their strength needs to be specific to their sport and their performance. In this article, we will talk about the importance of building a better foundation of strength for performance.
Force production and tolerance
To perform well in most sports an athlete needs to be strong, powerful and fast. Imagine a sprinter coming out of the gates. A sprint start is a true display of power and speed. If you listen closely as the sprinter gets up to speed you can hear their foot contacts on the ground. The best sprinters have foot contacts that sound like shot guns, they hit the ground hard, very hard. The ground reaction forces can be over 4 times bodyweight in just milliseconds during a top speed sprint. The ground reaction forces during more intense plyometric movements like the long jump can be over 7 times bodyweight through one leg. The stronger an athlete is, the more force they are going to be able to create during these sporting tasks and the more force they are going to be able to tolerate before an injury occurs.
How strong is strong?
The common question is “How strong do you need to be?”. The answer for this question is going to be completely different for each athlete, sport, team, technique, standards, age, weight, equipment and the list goes on. One thing is common though, there is no benefit in being weaker than your opponent. Being stronger allows you to rest on your general capacities for performance. A good example would be a throwing event like the shot put in athletics. Imagine two athletes at the same level, one athlete has a very specific training adaption for his sport and a nearly perfect technique whereas, the other athlete relies on his strength much more, his technique isn’t quite as good as the former athlete but he can outperform him in every way, he is stronger, more explosive, faster and recovers faster between throws. If the two athletes had the same strength and performance measures, the latter athlete wouldn’t be able to rely on his general physical qualities but because he is much stronger they are able to perform at the same level.
THE VIDEO: The importance of building a better foundation of strength for performance
General Vs Specific training
This is when the question around general vs specific training is posed. How much general strength and power training does an athlete need to do before progressing to sport specific training? Is it a question of before and after? Or should sport specific training be included from the very start? We know that building a better foundation of general training capacities leads to better longevity and builds more robust athletes. But if you spend too much time on getting strong and not enough time training specifically for the sport at hand, performance can be lost or even worse, never gained. Each case is going to be different, each athlete is going to have different strengths and weaknesses, different goals and different time scales to be able to achieve these goals. Traditionally, blocks of time would be separated into general training blocks and specific training blocks. This works well with sports that have a distinct date or event like athletics and combat sports. Just like building a pyramid, laying a wide foundation of general training capacities like strength and power before moving higher into more sport specific training as you get closer to the event. Recently, there has been a rise in coaches using a more conjugate method which, involves training all or many capacities within different ratios thought training blocks. This may involve sport specific drills and movements in the same session as general training. An example would be sprint wickets and plyometrics before heavy back squats, contrasting very specific exercises with quite general movements within the same training session. This method can also be used in an undulating fashion, having a purely specific training session at the beginning of the week and a specific general strength training session at the end of the week. The format isn’t important, each athlete or team may need a different solution, the important part is that there is a big enough foundation of strength so that they can perform at their best and avoid injury. You can never be too strong but you can use your time and resources in a smart efficient way to improve your performance rather than just how much weight you lift in the gym.
As strength and conditioning coaches our job isn’t just to make an athlete bigger and stronger, our job is to make an athlete better and more capable of performing within their specific sport. Athletes don’t use strength training to be able to squat or bench press more than the next person, they use strength training to improve their maximal force production and tolerance during their event. How we go about that training is very dependent on the individual.